Narcos, the dramatized depiction of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, concluded its second season with (spoilers) Escobar's death. Understandably, for fans of the show, there was concern about what would come next. The words that concluded Season 2 — "Agent Peña, how much do you know about the Cali Cartel?" — provided a gateway to a new, bigger threat, and caused audiences to scramble to the nearest electronic device to search Wikipedia for answers.
The Cali Cartel were even more powerful than Escobar, who was replaced not by one, but four crime lords, whose levels of covert brilliance made Don Pablo's network of dirty cops and lookouts appear feeble in comparison. No doubt, #Netflix took a risk by condensing the larger-than-life story of Escobar to two seasons, in the process removing two key stars, Wagner Moura (who played Escobar) and Boyd Holbrook (portraying DEA Agent Steve Murphy).
But the risk paid off. #Narcos Season 3 doesn't only match the first two seasons, it accelerates past them. That's not to take anything away from what came before, but instead highlights how producers have played to the show's strengths, and created a follow-up that feels truly evolved, mature and fleshed out — even without Escobar and Murphy. But what are these strengths? Let's take a look below.
Enhancing Existing Characters
It's no secret that Narcos isn't a like-for-like depiction of events, but instead a 50/50 split between fact and dramatization. Part of the success of Season 3 comes down to the decisions made when bending the truth for the sake of the narrative. One key example is the inclusion of DEA Agent Javier Peña (Pablo Pascal), despite that fact that in real life he left Colombia after the death of Escobar.
But his inclusion is crucial. As well as keeping consistency, Peña is a visual link between the events in Medellin and Cali. With leading man charm, Pascal effortlessly changes gear as Peña is given added responsibility (and acclaim) in tackling the new, greater threat. His character is an amalgamation of a number of real life agents, and for the benefit of Narcos, this adds a narrative that helps the audience to instantly get on the DEA's side.
This link is also enhanced by the new antagonists having already been established deftly across the first two seasons, patiently waiting for Escobar's dynasty to decline so they could take the top spot. Credit to the casting of the show, Gilberto (Damian Alcazar), Pacho (Alberto Ammann) and Miguel (Francisco Denis) are already established, compelling characters who are primed to be fleshed out. New arrival José — who's in control of New York operations — is a worthy addition.
It helps that the lives of these men, and the organized Cartel they helped to build from the ground up, is fascinating even without being adapted for television. Narcos provides jaw-dropping insight into the reason why they were referred to as the Cali KGB, a nicknamed earned thanks to an elaborate surveillance system, combined with collusion from Cali's elite.
Maintaining Style And Sound
The texture of Narcos is interesting. It's a story about real-life bloodshed, but a lot of the creative choices apply a rose-tinted veil that prettifies the reality of death and violence. From the catchy, ambient tones of Rodrigo Amarante's "Tuyo" overlaying the intro, to the glossy cinematography capturing the landscape of Colombia in its best light, the style of Narcos contrasts the events on screen.
Far from glamorizing violence, though, instead this allows us to see events through the eyes of the criminals themselves: The power, the money, the women, the cocaine. It's a distinct element that draws attention, and applies itself even more to Season 3. Cali is captured in its elegant best, the glitz and glam of the Cartel shown through gangster's perspective. It's like adding an Instagram filter to Scarface, or The Godfather, in an attempt to add shine to scandal."
Carefully Adding Characters That Enhance The Story
As mentioned above, the producers of the show have an element of creative freedom, actively dramatizing certain elements of the show. This is key in making sure new additions to the cast play their part, fitting into the jigsaw. As well as increasing the influence of Peña, the way in which Steve Murphy was replaced has been a huge positive for Narcos Season 3. Instead of aiming for a like-for-like replacement, two DEA agents, Chris Feistl and Daniel Van Ness, make the journey to Cali.
The pair have their own buddy cop dynamic and crucially, they work under the instruction of Peña, not on par with him. This subsequently allows Peña's character room to grow, while allowing the two newcomers to form their own subplots and develop themselves, separate from Peña's individual investigation.
Perhaps the best addition of all, though, is Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela). Head of security for the Cali Cartel, Salcedo was a real-life informant whose information on the Cartel was instrumental in their downfall. He's a compelling character, clearly a different breed from the rest of those drawn to crime — he's upstanding and professional, but also aware and willing to actively participate in a life of crime.
A Winning Formula For 'Narcos' Season 4
Factor in all of the above, and you have a winning formula. A formula that can, and presumably will, be applied to the next season. In an interview with Movie Pilot back in February, Boyd Holbook explained that there's a possibility that Season 4 will depict the present day, with a focus on El Chapo — a notorious Mexican drug lord — who, at the time of his arrest in 2014 had exported more drugs to the US than anyone else.
But there are many options; due to the ever-interesting, interlinked web of the criminal drug-smuggling underworld, there are a multitude of directions the show could take, each as intriguing as the next, each ready to be polished and portrayed.
Have you watched Narcos Season 3? How would you rank it compared to earlier seasons?